25 December – 1 January: Oh what a year! Reflecting on 2019 as we enter a new decade

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia

The past week has been full of friends, colour and laughter, starting with a Christmas day feast, lunch catch up in the city, and finishing the year with a bollywood inspired new year’s eve fancy dress party.

Christmas and new year’s fun with friends in Sydney, Australia

Coming to the end of the year, it’s a great time to reflect on all the amazing things we have seen and done – even we pinch ourselves when we recall all the adventures we have had.

The year started in New Zealand, spending time in Omokoroa, a stunning quiet harbour side area in the North Island near Tauranga. We did some incredible walks, met up with lovely friends and spent some quality time with my dad and his wife Sue.

January 2019 in New Zealand

From there, we returned to Australia and spent a couple of months touring Victoria, catching up with friends new and old, a little wine tasting, paddling and cycling thrown in for good measure.

February-March 2019 – Victoria, Australia

At the end of March it was time for our long awaited Europe adventure. We flew to the UK, arriving on what should have theoretically been Brexit Day. Of course it didnt happen, which suited us fine, allowing us free reign to explore Europe without deadlines. We picked up a new-to-us motorhome, which we named Truffy (all motorhomes have a name apparently!), and set about making him comfortable while we caught up with friends and family, Mr A becoming expert in piloting a left-hand-drive vehicle.

Our first month with Truffy, touring friends and family

In May we set off for France, taking a ferry across the channel. We joined friends at a gite in the Champagne region and learned a lot about sparkly bubbles. In Provence, there were more friends to see, beautiful scenery and amazing weather.

Champagne and Provence, France

Leaving there, we headed off to the Italian Riviera and Tuscany, falling in love with the beautiful towns, friendly people and delicious food and wine.

The stunning Italian Riviera

We travelled across the middle of Italy over to Le Marche, where we spent a week with more friends, touring the stunning villages, vineyards and mountains of the area.

Fun with friends in Le Marche, Italy

Croatia was our next stop, with some time in Dubrovnic before a cycle-cruise with friends up through the islands. Sparkling clear waters, peaceful sleepy villages and friendly smiles on the islands, a little edgier on the mainland, busy with tourists flocking to the pebbly beaches for the summer. From there we worked our way up through the country to Slovenia.

Amazing sunsets and turquoise waters greeted us in Croatia

Slovenia, we really loved. From spectacular art, delicious wine, amazing cycling opportunities, safe, friendly cities and the most beautiful lakes of Bled and Bohinj. To say nothing of enjoying the novelty of cycling into Italy and back, just because we could.

Picturesque Slovenia

We drove through the Karawanks Alpine Range to Austria next, a country chock full of stunning views, colourful houses, and a cyclist’s dream with hundreds of kilometers of paths away from traffic or through quiet villages.

Awestruck in Austria

A brief interlude with Bavaria in Germany caught us up with some old friends while visiting lakes, waterfalls, castles and more cycle adventures.

Beers and bikes in Bavaria, Germany

Our 10th country of the year was Switzerland, where a pulled pork sandwich is a cool $42 at the airport. Mr A spent some time by bike exploring Zurich while I flew to the UK for a hospital visit, and once I was back we moved on to cheaper regions back in France.

Cycling and river swimming in Swizerland

We spent a few weeks in France, did some big day walks, explored Brittany and Normandy and wallowed in the Anglo-French history, learning lots about everything from medieval times through to the second world war. We did some cycling and wine tasting the Loire Valley, and decided we were not so keen on French oysters when we parked for the night on a farm.

A final jaunt across France

Back in the UK we spent some time with family and explored areas we had not seen much of before. We visited Derbyshire, Yorkshire, County Durham and the Lake District, but the absolute highlight was Scotland. After a few days in Edinburgh, we set off for the Outer Hebrides, visiting Skye, Harris and Lewis, and the highlands. Being off peak, the weather was rather fresh, but the scenery spectacular and unlike anything else.

Previously unexplored corners of the UK

We finished off our time in the UK with visits with friends in Chester and Nottinghamshire, before putting Truffy into storage for a few months and jetting off on what should have been the next Brexit Day (but wasn’t) to the warmth of Australia.

A final fling visiting friends and family before we jet off around the world

Back in Australia we had a brief catch up with friends in Sydney, before picking up our Zone (caravan) and heading south. We went back into Victoria, exploring some more wine regions and attending a Zone-muster.

Beautiful Victoria before the fires

We were fortunate to be invited to house sit for a good friend for six weeks over the Christmas period – a time we generally try to avoid travelling due to the busy school summer holidays. It has really made us appreciate being settled in a home for a few weeks, a chance to unpack, take stock and enjoy the city life from a location that is quiet and bushy.

Many of the areas we visited in November have now been burnt beyond recognition, the tarmac melted and warped, trees down across roads, properties and lives lost. It is so sad, but we feel privileged to have visited the regions in safety before all this happened.

There is enough in the press about the fires through Australia so I won’t dwell on that, only that like the rest of the country we are hoping for relief sooner than later – sadly no rain forecast at least until the end of January. Mark and I have donated to the Salvation Army Bushfire Appeal – please click on the link if you’re able to help too – any sum of money is appreciated to help those families who have lost everything.

Thank you to everyone who was a part of our year and helped make it so special. The kindness of friends and strangers (who became friends!) has really made our travels so memorable.

Thank you too to everyone who regularly follows our posts, we really appreciate it! If you’re not yet a subscriber and would like to make sure you don’t miss an update from us, you can subscribe here. We have an exciting year ahead planned, with more travel in Australia, Singapore, the UK, Austria, Spain, France and Scandinavia.

We would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very happy, healthy and safe year ahead, may 2020 bring you adventures and maybe we’ll meet you on the road somewhere?

Keep in touch, we LOVE hearing from you!

PS If you were part of our year and we’ve not included a photo of you in our montages its only because we are so limited in how many to include – I am certain there is likely a photo of you on this blog somewhere! Thank you!

Goodbye NZ we will miss you!

Author: Mr A

Location: Auckland New Zealand

Well it’s nearly time to head to the airport and bid goodbye to this fabulous country and people. She has touched our hearts again with the beauty of the mountains and coastline, the fresh produce that can be brought at roadside stalls, the cooling breezes that even on a hot day provide a tingle of freshness.

Leaving Omokoroa was hard. We feel priveldged to have watched the sun set over the hills there so many times. To watch the clouds swirling round the peaks of the Kaimai Range in in the distance as we sat on the patio and chatted with Richard and Sue. To watch the flocks of godwits as the tide changes make their daily flight back and forward to their preferred feeding grounds, never failing to make us “ooh and ahhh”. To stand on the beach and breathe in that air that is so fresh and clean it makes your nose tingle. These are the memories we will store away.

The tidal mudflats, a feeding ground for so many birds
Oyster Catchers flying in to join their flock
We wish we could communicate the bird calls across the sands, the geese, the godwits, the swans, oyster catchers, stilts and more…
The sense of peace and serenity here is second to none

We once again have experienced the kindness of people as we travel. Yesterday was such a great example of that. Collected from our hotel, we were whisked out to a friend’s house in the posh end of Auckland’s coastal suburbs. It was a day we will always remember.

Friends reunited – strolling along the waterfront at Mission Bay
Excited to be seeing somewhere new
A little post lunch margarita action to celebrate Auckland Day
Bonnie the gorgeous cat-dog knows a good lap when she finds one!

The lively conversation with the whole family engaged. The fabulously long lunch down on the water. The sharing of stories, music and jokes. Suddenly 10 hours had passed in a blink, but the deeper friendship forged will last I think a lifetime. This surely is what life should be about if you have managed to carve yourself some space from the day to day pressure of earning a crust.

The sad fact of travel though is that you do have to say goodbye a lot, and we’ve said a few over the last days. However, we look forward to seeing the Sydney mob again. Fasten your seat belts we’re incoming!

18-22 January: More shades of green and blue in New Zealand

Author: Mrs A

Location: Omokoroa and Coromandel, New Zealand

Friday: It was another fine day in New Zealand, I’m sure you’re tired of hearing. Blue skies over Omokoroa prompted Mr A and I to pull out the walking shoes and head off on another hike. We drove just 10km up the coast to Aongatete and set off on another walk in the lower Kaimai Range. The cloud hung down over the peaks but did not rain.

Heading up hill to commence our hike…no gentle warm up for the legs on this walk!

Lush forest with a path cris-crossed by tree roots

A little fan-tail keeps us company as we walk

We saw a lady with her two young children who were doing a shorter hike, but otherwise no other people as we walked the circuit. I relished my open airway and good breathing as we hiked up and down some relatively steep valleys, crossing a couple of streams as we went.

Other than slipping on a green rock and getting a wet foot, there were no mishaps, and we were reminded once again the contrast with similar hikes in Australia – no ticks, leeches or snakes here.

Mark stops a moment to enjoy the sounds of the forest and breathe in the clean air…

The stream which captured my foot…I forgave it since it’s so pretty…

It’s almost like a stairway of tree roots, guiding the way…very Lord of the Rings…

What goes up must also climb down…

Saturday & Sunday: With one more week left here in New Zealand I decided to paint a couple of artworks for dad and Sue as a thank you for their hospitality. Over the weekend I clocked up about 8 hours of painting – it was good to get back working on paper!

Four hours into my painting… more to go…will post the finished item on the Arty-Cat page…

Saturday night dad and Sue hosted neighbours Den and Angie for dinner – delicious mussels and prawns with a couple of tasty sauces. Much laughter ensued as we had an enjoyable evening with a few bottles of wine under a starlit sky.

Sunday morning started with rain and a low rainbow over the golf course…

Mark and I strolled down to the beach on Sunday afternoon at low tide, feeling wistful at the fact we only have a few more days left to enjoy this very special location. The sand flats were covered with birds; herons, black swans, Canada geese and oyster catchers mingled with godwits, gulls and stilts. We were the only people down there as we sat and enjoyed the peace and quiet from the white sand.

A flock of godwits in formation…

Variable and pied oyster catchers…these used to be shot for food in the 1800s and early 1900s

A white-faced heron glides past on its way to a new pool of snacks

Easily spooked, the black swans show off their white wing tips as they fly off to less disturbed waters

Monday morning began nice and early, with workmen arriving to commence repaving the back patio. Mark and I packed up the car with some clothes and our camping gear and headed off a couple of hours up the coast to the Coromandel peninsular.

It’s a lovely drive up, with the Coromandel mountain range on our left, and fleeting turquoise water views alongside the forest and valleys to our right. The road is very windy and popular with motorcyclists, but less so with me and my weak stomach. I was relieved when the winding ceased and my travel sickness abated.

We set up camp at Hot Water Beach, stopping in the garden beside an orchard of an old house near the beach. It wasn’t a fancy location by any stretch of the imagination, but it was peaceful and the ground was flat.

A New Zealand wood pigeon looks down on us

The owner of the location came down to see us, showing us the resident eels living in the stream behind our camp. “Keep your toes away from the edge, they’ll attach onto one and suck off all the flesh, leaving a bone.” Ugh!

One of several eels in the stream…this one was just a baby…

I revisited my foot slipping into the stream a couple of days ago with a new perspective! Maybe there are things in New Zealand that can hurt you after all!

We stuck to the beach instead, doing a lovely long walk along the coast. What we didn’t do was dig a hole in the sand and sit in it, like so many other visitors. Hot Water Beach is named for the hot springs which rise in the sand, accessible by shovel. The springs only appear in about a 50 metre wide stretch of the beach, and it is here that people sit in wet holes, cheek by jowl admiring the incoming tide. We very briefly considered doing this, before returning our shovel and exploring the quieter parts of the beach instead, no tourists around.

Horror of horrors – the crowds in the warm water area of the beach…

The serenity at the other end of the beach…the off shore wind creating beautiful waves

A heron battling the strong wind

A pair of southern black-backed gulls stand over their lunch…good to see gulls hunting for their own food and not picking through bins…

Tuesday – after a slightly disturbed sleep (very strong winds) we arose and drove a short way up the coast to Hahei. A very pretty settlement, this is the gateway to the famous Cathedral Cove. Accessible only by foot or boat, this is on everyone’s ‘must visit’ lists for the Coromandel.

Mr A prepares hot cross buns for breakfast…it must be nearly Easter….?!

Mr A and I have been there at least twice in the past, loving its picturesque gentle turquoise waters dotted with rocks and islands and white sand beaches. We parked up on the seafront at Hahei and took the coastal walk along.

Things have changed somewhat in the five years since we last came this way. Firstly, there is a water taxi that loads up people for $15 a head and whizzes them along the coast, meaning there are many more families with young children at the cove. Secondly, the pathway that follows the coast has now been surfaced, making it more of a footpath than a bush walk.

We hiked our way along, passing many people approaching and coming back from the beach, finding them differing from the usual hikers we come across. When you see someone on a bush walk, 99% of the time they will look at you, smile and say hello as you pass. Here, people avoid eye contact and rarely have a smile. If they are under the age of 30 then they will fill the path three abreast and scowl if they have to step aside to allow you to squeeze past single file. Very different souls indeed!

Mr A heads off from Hahai along the coastal walk…blessed with spectacular views

Looking back to Hahai beach from the first headland

The official start of the walk to Cathedral Cove…(do Helen, Stu, Simon, dad or Sue recognise this?)

Spectacular views…we were sad it was too windy to pack raft along here…

Of course the beach and cove was beautiful, but with many visitors. I jumped in for a refreshing dip (fulfilling a promise to my sister that I would do – brr! Helen I hope you appreciate my sacrifice) but Mark got no deeper than his ankles.

The cathedral like archway that gives the cove its name

Don’t look too closely…shivering as I enter the water…

Floating with toes up, in memory of Granddad Ernest…

Warming up on the sand before we head off…

After half an hour we headed back, calling in to Stingray Bay on our way around. In contrast to Cathedral Cove, there was hardly anyone here, but it was equally spectacular. I wish I had saved my swim for the turquoise waters here instead. True to its name, we watched stingrays whizz around the water’s edge catching lunch, and a couple of feral goats munching on some trees on the side of the bay. If you visit these parts, I suggest you plan to spend most of your time in the serenity of this beach rather than Cathedral Cove – total bliss.

A very healthy looking goat…

The serenity of Stingray Bay…

Now this is more like it – no water taxis here…

A single boat in the bay…

Yes, Mr & Mrs A approve….

We tore ourselves away and continued our return to Hahei and lunch – 8.5km having worked up a nice appetite!

An endangered New Zealand plover (also known as a dotterel), nicely disguised in the dunes on Hahei beach

I decided to fight the travel sickness and do the winding road driving on the way back to Omokoroa – a wise decision it turned out – I felt fine being in control!

Another lovely evening ensued with dad and Sue – a glass of wine on the patio followed by pork steaks, rice and vegetables. Delicious.

14-17 January: Walks in the Kaimai Range

Author: Mr A

Location: Omokoroa, Kaimai Range, Waihi Beach, New Zealand 

Monday: The Kaimai Range watches moodily over the Bay of Plenty, its dark craggy peaks regularly obscured in thundery clouds. We keep looking up at them from our haven down by the beach in Omokoroa and are inspired to keep reaching for the hiking shoes and driving up for a wander around.

It’s really hard to remember a more beautiful spot we have ever based ourselves, a huge thanks to Catherine’s dad Richard and wife Sue, who have shared their lovely home with us all these weeks. It’s a tough choice whether to head out on the water, paddling around the seemingly endless sheltered bays, or stride up into the hills. I know…life’s tough.

It literally poured with rain on Monday morning, so we dressed up in our waterproofs and took a short walk over to Omokoroa Beach.

Still looks lovely in the rain
After a bite of lunch the skies cleared and the Kaimai Range appears again

Tuesday: With a break in the rain, we headed up to the Kaimais to try out a walk on the Tuahu Track, one of the many that crosses the range a short drive from us.

Heading off on the track…so many options from here – we chose the Sentinel Rock lookout
Starting off along a civilised six foot track…

After an innocent enough start along a well formed track, the path headed almost vertically upwards, in the time honoured Kiwi fashion! We came across the all too rare remnants of the Kauri forest that once dominated the landscape before settlers realised their value as timber. The oldest specimen remaining has watched over the forest for 1200 years. Just writing that gave me goose bumps! What a timescale. Finally they are being protected and efforts to restore the forests are making some slow progress. In 1987 all the remaining tracts of Kauri forest came under government protection…it’s a nasty disease spread by walkers which is threatening the remaining trees now (Kauri dieback) – we made sure to brush and spray our shoes before starting or finishing any walks.

This tree is a young 600 years old
Feeling pleased these giants are now protected from the saw

With a lot of huffing and puffing we finally reached our lookout, and I got the stove on for a brew.

Time for a brew!
The view from the lookout…extra dramatic with an approaching storm
Mrs A heads off down the slope

Almost immediately thunder started rumbling around the peaks, and it was a quick gulp or two before we donned rain jackets and slithered and stumbled our way back down. Thankfully the storm ebbed away and moved past us to the coast. I can’t imagine how tricky it would have been to get get down that path when it was even more slippery in the rain.

A dramatic Omokoroa sunset ended our day, the mountains in the distance

Wednesday: The rain returned again the next day so took a nostalgic drive out to where Richard and Sue used to live at Waihi Beach. Dramatic skies shed an eerie light over this glorious place.

After a morning of rain, a stroll along the beach is in order, Waihi Beach looking dramatic
And at the end of the day, Sue and Richard enjoying another fine sunset from the front of their property

Thursday: The next day dawned fresh and bright, so we headed off down the road to a volunteer maintained park, the Te Puna Quarry Park, with a lovely network of paths running around an old quarry. The views from the lookouts were spectacular.

Enjoying the view from the butterfly garden
Sculptures dotted around the park add to its beauty, many with interesting stories
A fantastic panorama across the eastern Bay of Plenty – Here is Mount Maunganui in the south, we could see all the way up to the Coromandel Range in the north
And the time is….? 2pm
More sculptures overlook the vista


Enjoying the views

Mount Maunganui as usual dominates the scene, cruise ships clustered around the docks, and the endless channels and bays glistened in the afternoon light. Monarch butterflies flitted through the forest, and Catherine was in her element with her lens snapping away. It’s lovely to see her so happy, and breathing well at the moment (touching my head, ie wood!).

Monarch butterflies are everywhere
A newly hatched butterfly drying its wings
The gardens are planted to attract these beauties
One of the many caterpillars feeding on a Swan Plant – they are ferocious eaters – not many of the plants had leaves left!

Oh what a relief to be here in these temperatures and not back in Australia (currently experiencing temperatures over 40 degrees centigrade in some areas!)! For New Zealand it is exceptionally warm, with the mercury going over 30 some days. But there always seems to be a cooling breeze that kicks in, and we have never felt too hot to stop us heading off on a jaunt. It’s really making us wonder about the future of Autralia for us, to be living there in the summer in a caravan. Not so good. Maybe a Plan B is called for? Let’s see.

On the way home we stopped off to top up with avocados from one of the many roadside stalls. They taste incredible freshly picked of course, so creamy and exploding with flavour. Then we got chatting to a couple who had just pulled up in their motorhome for the night in the most beautiful spot at Plummers Point, right on the edge of a well kept reserve, looking out over the bay towards Omokoroa.

Apparently their club has 80,000 members in New Zealand, and you can see why it’s so popular with so many awesome places to pull up (free!) as long as you have a self contained motorhome.

We bid them a good night and wandered back for yet another fantastic meal of fresh local produce whisked up by Richard. Oh…and a decent bottle of Cote du Rhone to wash it down of course! The local pinots come rather pricey for our everyday quaffing budget!

8-13 January: Meetings at the Mount

Author: Mrs A

Location: Omokoroa, Te Puna, Mount Maunganui, Whakatane and Ohope, New Zealand

Wednesday was dad and Sue’s sixth wedding anniversay, so we treated them to a special lunch at a local winery, Mill’s Reef. As we pulled into the car park we drove past a large black helicopter – apparently some guests really arrived in style! We later learned they had flown up from Christchurch in New Zealand’s south island…imagine doing that!

Despite ‘only’ arriving in a ten year old Ford Focus we all enjoyed our lunch and toasted the happy couple.

On Thursday, a long-time friend, Owen, was flying over to spend some time with his sister and brother-in-law, Kay and Frank in Mount Maunganui, about a half an hour drive south of where dad lives.

We met them for lunch at the Cider Factorie at Te Puna, and brought them back to dad’s house so they could check out the views from this side of Omokoroa.

Friday morning saw us heading down to Tauranga Airport, where Kay and Frank live in an apartment above a plane hanger. They’re both plane enthusiasts, and Frank’s passion is rebuilding old Cessna aircraft.

Frank shows us around his immaculate workshop and a photo gallery of many other aircraft he has restored and flown over the years

After a quick tour we all jumped into Frank and Kay’s four wheel drive for an explore down the coast. This was a bit of a trip down memory lane for Owen and Kay, who used to holiday in this area as children.E4491EC4-2099-4E63-98D3-D9920C815B34

Our first stop was Whakatane, a fishing port and popular home for retirees (this town boasts the most hours of sunshine in New Zealand). The mouth of the estuary is pretty treacherous with rocks and choppy waters – we watched a few boats running the gauntlet.

Looking up towards Whatatane Heads

The calm of the harbour

Owen looking out at an approaching boat

A couple of fishermen return through the choppy waters, Moutohora Island in the background

Magazine photo shoot

From here we continued south along the coast to Ohope, just around the headland.

By all accounts Ohope Beach had not changed a great deal – the beachside settlement was a little bigger, but still very pretty and natural with bush land reaching right down to the beach.

Mrs A at the end of the beach – lovely warm water here

Loving the contrast between the black sand and white wind blown silica with this driftwood

Frank and Kay, our generous hosts

OE & Mrs A

We stopped in town for some lunch before heading on back to the mount.

Later that evening, we headed into Mount Maunganui for dinner at a local restaurant, Fish Face…yes speciality food is fish. An old colleague of Mark’s from his SAP days, Kirstin, drove up from her home to join us. Lots of laughs, some tasty food and wine was enjoyed, and we all sensibly returned home for night caps rather than stumble in to one of the many nearby bars.

Wearing my new pendant – handcrafted by one of dad & Sue’s neighbours from London Plane and NZ paua shell, silver chain gifted from Kay

OE and Kay enjoying dinner

Mr A sneaks in dessert accompanied by an espresso martini

Saturday morning called for some activity to work off all the excesses of the night before, so Mark, Owen and I borrowed some bikes and went on a ride. Owen is recovering from a nasty cycling accident which resulted in a broken shoulder, chipped elbow bone and nerve damage to his leg, so this was only the second time back on a bike in a couple of months.

We took it easy, making use of the off road cycle network to explore the coast around Tauranga harbour and tour around 15km.

Team photo as we leave the airport

Mr A and OE pedal along the boardwalk

The rail bridge connecting Tauranga to Matapihi

Team photo crossing the bridge

Nice view across the harbour towards the Mount

White faced heron having a preening session on a rock

Millions of dollars worth of yachts not being used

A delightful bronze sculpture of the Hairy Mclary characters – if you don’t know the books, look them up!

We returned for showers and joined Kay for lunch in Mount Maunganui and a wander around the shops.

Frank and Kay have a lovely library in their apartment with bifold windows that open up to look out over the runway. We enjoyed predinner wine and cheese while we watched the neighbours take their plane out for a flight, as you do!

Enjoying the refreshing breeze across the airport

Biggles heads off for an early evening flight

Capped off with a delicious dinner of rib eye, salad and new potatoes

Sunday morning saw Mark, Owen and I back on the bikes cycling into Mount Maunganui. I stopped off at a cafe to meet up with four local ladies who, like me, have idiopathic subglottic stenosis and are members of the support group I run. It’s always lovely to chat to locals and especially ladies who have gone through similar experiences. We had a good three hour catch up.

The first ever New Zealand iSGS meet up

Meanwhile, Mr A and Owen continued their cycle, before meeting up with Kay again for a beer at the fisherman’s club and lunch at an Asian restaurant.

We then cycled back to Kay and Frank’s, packed up the car and farewelled Owen as he headed off to fly back to Auckland, and then back to Melbourne. A fabulous long weekend for all of us.

6-7 January: Whanganui to Taupo and back to Omokoroa

Author: Mr A

Location: Whanganui, Motuoapa, Rotorua and Omokoroa

The drive up from the west coast port of Whanganui up to Taupo gave us some fantastic scenery. Plunging waterfalls, snow capped volcanoes (that have caused two of the worlds most violent eruptions), alpine vistas, and finally a lake boasting a surface area larger than Singapore! New Zealand just keeps throwing us into a sensory overload.

Mount Ruapehu – active volcano covered in snow.
The roads are not too busy around here…

We made a small diversion for a nostalgic visit to the Chateau at Tongariro where friends of ours got married. It still had all the charm we remembered so fondly.

Chateau Tongariro – we stayed here in February 2003 for friends Jenny & David’s wedding
The grand old house decked out in 1920s decadence, and playing the music too…
When we stayed here the mountain was decked in thick fog…we didn’t see it for three days!

We had kindly been invited to stay the night with a friend’s family who own a holiday house right on the shore of Lake Taupo. We’ve both stayed with them before, but it still took our breath away sitting in the lounge looking out at this view.

Looking across Taupo

I decided to take a kayak out for an explore in the late afternoon sunshine, and took advice from our hosts and found myself immersed in this wetland separated from the main lake by a narrow channel. I had one of those “I am so privileged to see this place” moments…stopped paddling and just drifted along in the absolute silence with only water birds for company.

A hidden corner of Taupo, where the water’s less than knee deep
Looking out towards the north of the caldera
This wetland is home to a very rare species of orchid – the Swamp Orchid

A cracking dinner of fresh NZ whitebait and prawns, with such good company, had us again reflecting on the ingredients that make you want to call somewhere home. I can certainly see why so many Kiwis come back after careers offshore. Yes the North Island is changing, certainly getting busier in parts, but the contrast to where we have travelled in the north and west of Australia in particular, is just so stark. The constantly changing scenery here for instance. In one day we have travelled through all of these remarkably different landscapes. The summer climate here is also such a literally refreshing change. Although averages are creeping up, we haven’t once felt we didn’t want to be outside in them in the day and usually they dipped enough at night to give us a good sleep. We also never seem to be far from a shop that can sell us fresh produce and a quality bottle of wine! Important things…makes you think…

However, even though the grass seems greener here, literally, there’s some things that aren’t as you would hope. For instance, in NZ you are nearly twice as likely to be killed in your vehicle than in Australia. New Zealand ended 2018 with its road toll at 382 – with 3.6 million light vehicles registered. In Australia we ended the year at 1,143 fatalities with 19.2M registered. We can ponder about why the huge difference – no research I could find covers this scope, but having driven here for a month, driver behaviour leaves me feeling very nervous. For instance, almost every other vehicle that I watch come up in the mirror tailgates us. It seems second only to rugby as a national sport!

Secondly, we have decided to miss out on a number of walks/sights because of a concern about the security of our vehicle and its contents. The glass of smashed car windows was littering many of the car parks we saw at the start of walks. Car break ins are all too common in the tourist spots. Many of the reviews we read of places we wanted to go had people reporting car thieves working in the area. Not good for brand New Zealand.

Having said all of that, we both went out on the kayaks in the morning and revisited the wetlands, which looked different again in the morning light and had one of the most memorable paddles ever in this land of outsndaing natural beauty.

A very different looking Lake Taupo greeted us at 7am
Beautiful still waters reflecting moody skies
Mr A paddles towards the secret entrance into the wetlands
Paddling in the clouds
The silence and stillness is breathtaking
Mrs A is impressed…worth getting out of bed for!
Somehow the cloud cover adds to the overall atmosphere
Yes, we are having fun!

We paddled back to the house for showers and a cup of tea with our hosts, before heading off on our way. We lunched beside the Aratiatia Rapids on our way back to Omokoroa – literally just happening to turn off the road and arrive as the power station was releasing a huge amount of water . We didn’t realise it would only last 15 minutes, so failed to take any photos – it wasn’t ‘too’ bad a view once the dam was closed again though! Top tip for future travellers in this area – check out the release times and get there to have a look – it was impressive!

AratiatiaRapids with their ‘standard’ amount of water – you can see the darker areas of rock where the water had previously gushed through about 3 metres deeper and much faster!
The incredible blue-green waters down river, just past the hydro power station which controls the flow

New Zealand has so much to offer the traveller, just be careful on the roads and park your car somewhere safe, with plenty of witnesses!


3-5 January: Waterfalls, forest and rapids – three days of adventuring

Author: Mrs A

Location: Tongariro National Park and Pipiriki

Thursday: After paying a visit to the local supermarket and cheese deli in Cambridge, we started to wind our way across country towards Ohakune, on the southern reaches of Tongariro National Park. It was a spectacular drive, travelling through New Zealand’s now familiar lush green farmland, with volcanic looking hills.

Fabulous view over Lake Taupo as we headed south

As we headed through Tongariro National Park the cloud descended and all hope of seeing the snow capped peaks disappeared with it. We arrived in Ohakune around 2.30pm, checking into a motel for the night. As we parked up we recognised the view from six years ago – we’ve stayed at the same place before!

We then drove up into Tongariro National Park, firstly doing a short walk to see a splendid waterfall where the Mangawhero plunges down into the valley.

The water plunging over the cliff – all snow melt, so we weren’t game for a dip!

From here we drove further down the mountain, and did a longer walk to Waitonga Falls. This hike took us through native mountain beech, climbing up high to an alpine bog. Unfortunately there was some wind up there, as on a calm day, there are some fabulous views of Mount Ruapehu reflected in the pools. We then climbed down steeply to the falls, a chance for a little water photography and a cup of tea before we headed back.

We needed all the climbing after our car journey…or so we convinced ourselves!
Walking over the alpine bog
I climb down to capture a different angle
Such a lovely river
Restricted myself to just a couple of photos
A nice cup of tea

After all that activity we headed out to a local eatery for dinner. Strangely named The Blind Finch, the restaurant calls itself a ‘hamburgeria’ selling a variety of interesting burgers (Mark had the Vietnamese – a pork mince burger with crackling and Vietnamese slaw, I had a Japanese version with Teryiaki beef) plus locally brewed beers and New Zealand wines. A great meal, and a fabulous view of the setting sun reflecting on Ruapehu’s snow capped peak as we walked back to the motel.

Mt Ruapehu glowing at sunset
Ohakhune as the sun sets

Friday: We arose early to do one more hike before we checked out, heading back into the national park, and doing a short walk through the Mangawhero Forest. We’re loving the cool lushness of the undergrowth here, every tree dripping in mosses and orchids, the ever present flutter and tweet of birds accompanying the rushing of the Mangawhero River. The track crossed a large volcanic crater on our way through, changing the fauna as we went.

Did you know Mr A is a bit of a tree hugger? Especially with a giant like this…
The river winds peacefully through the forest
More water….
Our last glimpse of the river before we head off

After showering and checking out of the motel, we were away again, heading just a short way down to Pipiriki, a tiny little village on the banks of the Whanganui River. We decided to head off for a walk along the riverside. River ‘side’ in this case, is a relative term, as the cliffs alongside the river are 50-100 metres high, offering great views, but a terrifying death if the ground gives way! We did about 7km return trip, before returning for a late lunch.

Pretty special views up the Whanganui River
Abandoned shed on a farm at the end of the trail
Amazing skies
Mr A strolling along

We had a relaxing afternoon – there was no phone or internet access, so Mark read while I practiced a little drawing on my new iPad. I love how I can pretty much duplicate what I do on paper – still learning to use it and getting used to a smaller medium, but had fun.

Our little camp site
My artists impression of the view from my green chair in the shade…later to become the helicopter landing pad!

We had some neighbours join us for dinner in the evening, given we were camped beside the picnic table. Mother and son from The Netherlands, Claudia and Fabian joined us for a lot of laughter and a glass of wine, and medical student Igor from Berlin, Germany shared our dinner, having earned it with a 40km cycle today after completing the Tongariro Crossing (an 8 hour mountain hike) yesterday.

We were just heading to bed, when the campground owner came over to tell us there was a medical emergency, and a helicopter was on its way to rush another guest to Palmerston North hospital with a suspected heart attack. We moved the car and packed away the tent, and waited in anticipation.

After about 90 minutes of waiting, the helicopter landed in the carpark alongside us, a challenging night landing, and the patient loaded up. We chatted to the pilot, who told us he had night vision goggles to help navigate and as ex-Air Force was used to challenging situations.

The calm before the excitement…the ambulance awaits the helicopter
The helicopter finally arrives…
Ready to load the patient…

Soon the excitement was all over and we put up our tent and went to sleep.

Saturday: Another fine day dawned, with early fog drifting down the river valley clearing to blue skies. Mr A rustled up a fine breakfast while I prepared some lunch to take with us – a river adventure was ahead. By 10.30am we were whizzing up the Whanganui River on a jet boat, along with our Dutch friends and a German couple, two large Canadian canoes and two small white water kayaks loaded on the back.

Heading up the river on the jet boat

It took us about three and a half hours to paddle back down the river, with about six sets of rapids, including two ‘fifty-fifties’. These are so named because one in two paddlers comes down upside down! Fortunately neither of us tipped out – possibly because we had lower centres of gravity being the only people in whitewater kayaks! Nevertheless, we felt pretty proud of ourselves as we climbed out after 15.5km and headed off for showers.

Paddling past one of many waterfalls
Fabian and Claudia attempting to paddle their canoe up a waterfall…it’s no wonder they came acropper on the rapids!
Claudia doing all the work while Fabian relaxes in the front
That little yellow dot is Mr A, dwarfed by the valley sides
Mr A again dwarfed by what is called ‘the dress circle’. The line where the foliage starts up above him is where the river flooded to in 2015
I come on through some smaller gravel races…some canoeists tipped over on here even!
A little rock scrambling took us to a waterfall in a cave at the side of the valley
As we paddle down river we try to imagine the paddle steamers making it up this way in the early 1900s…back then it was known as ‘The Rhine of the South’. The first regular steam boat service started in 1892, and they were the only real way to see this area prior to the river road opening in 1934, winched along the very shallow parts of the river, and cruising on through the deeper parts…
Made it without tipping out once! Yay team Anderson!

Our Dutch friends, Claudia and Fabian were less fortunate, tipping out on at least two occasions on their journey, and we watched several other groups having unplanned dips on their trips back too.

Once clean, Mark and I set off down the 79km Whanganui River Road towards Whanganui. The road wound alongside the river south of Pipiriki, through interesting Maori villages, each with a meeting house – we often heard singing as we travelled through.

Beautiful scenery accompanied us the whole way, culminating in a fabulous lookout from which we could see all the way to the snow capped peaks of Mt Ruapeau.

Looking all the way back up the river valley

We finally arrived at Whanganui feeling tired at about 5pm, and drove down to the windswept coast in the hope of setting up camp. The wind was incredibly strong, and we could imagine the tent canvas flapping all night long. It took us moments to change our minds and decide on alternative accomodation for the night. A quick Google and we ended up at the Riverview Motel – just fabulous. For NZ$100 we had a one bedroom apartment, with fully equipped kitchen, lounge (with lazy boy chairs – how much did we appreciate those?!) and dining area. Just perfect.

We had a relaxing evening, spaghetti bolognaise, a glass of red wine and the new series of Travellers on Netflix. Perfect. What an incredible day.

30 December – 2 January: Hello 2019!

Author Mr A

Location: The Bay of Plenty, New Zealand

30 December – It was the day before New Year’s Eve and we headed out into the hills to have morning tea with our friends’ parents, on their kiwi fruit orchard. No kiwi involved incedentally, just lots of childhood stories about David and his siblings, and a tour of the house, accompanied by delicious scones and jam.After a couple of hours of fine hospitality we farewelled Pat and Bill and headed off down to the Wairoa River. Initially we had thought we could cruise on down on our packrafts from the upper reaches, but Bill had advised us of flaws in our plan – firstly, the river is tidal, so we would be starting against the water, and secondly, its about 14km – about three times as far as we usually paddle in our inflatable packrafts.

Instead we set off from near the coast and cruised on up with the tide, enjoying the singing skylarks and the swooping swamp harriers over the waters’ edge. Just a short 4km paddle was all we needed, escaping the noise of the highway and relishing being close to nature.

We quickly head away from the noise of State Highway 2
Paddling up the river with the tide, trying not to disturb the water fowl

31 December – Before we knew it, the end of 2018 was upon us, and we decided to head up into the hills behind our base at Omokoroa for a wander through Puketoki Reserve, a stunning little native forest haven, saved from the saw in 1925. Catherine of course captured some lovely memories for us to share.

Enjoying the cool of the forest after the heat on the coast

1 January 2019 – Happy New Year! After a relatively quiet (for us) New Year’s Eve we were up for some paddling out on the glorious Bay of Plenty. Catherine’s dad offered to give us a lift to a Pahoia Domain beach, a couple of bays north of us, from which we then paddled back to his house.

Well, what a start to the the year! It was an awesome paddle. Our packrafts were inflated quick smart and we launched into the bath warm shallow water.

We are so delighted with these little boats, and pleased we changed them over to these new models from Kokopelli. Much smaller packed size means easier to carry around, and a narrower beam makes them a little quicker – well relatively – we are aren’t going to break any paddling records, but thats not our intention. We just dawdled along checking out the incredible scenery.

This grand mansion came into view. Wow….but are the owners happy?!

Investigations are being made into who might own this beauty!

2 January – This morning we packed up the car and set off with a reasonably vague plan to explore over four or five days parts of the North Island we haven’t made it to on previous trips. Our destination today was inland and over the rugged range that runs down the east coast of the Bay of Plenty to the small town of Cambridge.

We had read about the ‘Te Awa River Ride’, a cycle route following the mighty Waikato river, with the most scenic section being between Cambridge and Lake Karapiro, where the river has been dammed.

We hired bikes from the local information centre and set off on the “river ride”. Only one thing missing – the river. After riding through the town, with mostly no bike lanes, we roads along a long straight path by the side of a main road for 90% of the ride, finally arriving at the river.The picture of the ride that appears in all the marketing literature is actually the only really scenic 200 metre section on the whole trip (28km return!)!

Just in case you had read like me that “Cambridge is the cycling centre of New Zealand” and were panning to come – I would reconsider.

It ended up at a very cycle unfriendly road with cars racing past on narrow lanes…we turned back!

We treated ourselves to dinner out at the local Indian restaurant which helped Cambridge to redeem its reputation somewhat.

Onwards tomorrow to explore new locations. We do love a good road trip!

23-29 December: Christmas week round-up

Author: Mrs A

Location: Bay of Plenty, New Zealand

It’s been a fabulous week with family and friends, meeting neighbours and getting tips and hints for future travels. We have also managed to catch up with friends from Sydney into the bargain, with a couple of lunches enjoyed.

Mr A and I have done some more paddling and hiking throughout the last week, making the most of the weather, which has been typical New Zealand (rain-sun-rain-sun!).

We had a great paddle up the nearby Waipapa River, timing it perfectly with the tides helping us in and out on our trip.

Heading off across the glassy bay
Mr A heading up the river
Enjoying an apple for breakfast in the pouring rain
Mr & Mrs and the bumper boats

Christmas Day was glorious, with a delicious family dinner and an afternoon walk to work it off.

Christmas cheers around the tree
A Tui drinking nectar on the flowers
Stormy skies over the Kaimai Range
A king tide brings the water up onto the reserve…the low lying house owners would have been nervous
Rowing boats waiting to take owners out to the sail boats
“I saw three ships not sailing by…on Christmas Day in the morning….”

On Boxing Day we caught up with friends in the morning, and spent an afternoon walking in the Kaimai Range, not far from Omokoroa:

Seconds from the car you enter lush forest
Heading off down a path
Boardwalks help avoid much of the boggy mud…
Not all the streams have bridges though

On Thursday, stepbrother Simon, Sue’s eldest son, came to visit, bringing wine and gifts. A delicious family brunch was followed by a short walk.

A fan-tail chases flies as we walk through the woods
Summer berries in the hedgerow
A peaceful paradise along Omokoroa beach
A pair of eagle rays entertain us as they hunt in the shallows
Never tire of these views!

Friday saw us heading about an hour’s drive north up to Karangahake Gorge to catch up with friends Sara and Barny who were passing through on their Christmas holiday. After a pub lunch we went for a short walk to some waterfalls, and then a circuit walk through the gorge:

Owharoa Falls – known as bridal-veil falls for their perfect distribution of water
Sara, Barny and team Anderson enjoying the refreshing spray from the water
The roaring Ohinemuri River
The path is pretty narrow here – attention required!
A beautiful short walk before we farewelled Sara and Barny on their way up the Coromandel

We’ve really enjoyed exploring this area, but will be ready to head off a little further afield next week, packing up our tent (and hopefully no punctured mattresses!) to explore some more.

We hope you had a lovely week, whether you celebrate Christmas or whether you just took the opportunity to spend some quality time with friends and family. Seasons greetings from us both!

20-22 December: Continuing our exploration of the Bay of Plenty

Author: Mrs A

Location: Bay of Plenty, New Zealand North Island

Thursday morning reminded us why New Zealand is so lush and green, with the heavens opening as we awoke. Fortunately we were prepared for inclement weather and had planned a day that didn’t require sunshine. It began with a pedicure for me, while Mr A did a little shopping, and then we headed to Mount Manganui.

Driving around this area is a slow process, with one main road heading down the coast and an ever increasing population as people move out of Auckland to the coast. We’re getting used to Google Maps telling us there is a ‘6-15 minute delay’ on every route we take!

We enjoyed lunch in Mount Manganui, one of the more civilised areas nearby, with a choice of shops and eateries. It’s one of the ports cruise ships call into when travelling down the coast. It’s such a shame more has not been made of the waterways in terms of public transport – we’d love to just jump on a passenger ferry across from Omokoroa to here, but no, the only access is via road.

The rain disappeared once we returned back to dad’s and we headed back down to the bay for a walk. Sorry if we are repeating ourselves photographically but the scenery is so lovely!

Late afternoon sunshine – this is around 5pm
Sacred kingfisher not hanging around for a photo
Ring-necked doves like hunting for snacks on the white sand
Walking across the golf course wetlands
Walking across the golf course wetlands

We finished off the day with a dinner of delicious New Zealand green-lipped mussels, always a favourite when we visit these parts, and well worth the effort of cleaning and scraping.

Mr A on debearding and cleaning duties

Friday was another showery day, but Mr A and I were determined to head off into the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park for a decent walk.

We had only walked 50 metres and we found the sign we didn’t want to see ‘Track Closed’!

Oh no! Track closed!

Fortunately we knew this particular walk was a circuit, so we thought we would attempt a return hike from the other end – into the Waitawheta Valley and up to Waitawheta Gorge.

We started off through picturesque farmland
Expecting Gandalf to appear around the corner at any moment!

The path wound its way through farmland, bordered by a beautiful babbling river which we followed the whole way. We climbed over styles and through gates, the experience feeling very English!

A waterfall plunges out of the side of the gorge, crossing our path

As we entered the forest park the scenery changed, with lush tree ferns, red and silver beech, kamahi and kauri trees.

Mr A admires the views from alongside the Waitawheta River
Mrs A heads off along the track
The rain draws in, increasing the water flow and the overall atmosphere in the gorge.

The Waitawheta River was ever our companion, tumbling over rocks and carving its way through the gorge. We followed the route via which early settlers transported the Kauri tree wood, chopping down magnificent giant trees, often over 2000 years old, and shipping them around the world for building.

We crossed the river several times via swing bridges, evidence of the logging history visible in the rusty rail tracks and old struts from former bridges. A replica of a bogie, a rolling contraption which ran on tracks to carry tree trunks, helped demonstrate the area’s historic past.

Beautiful colours in the ferns alongside the track, glistening in the rain
Path or stream?
One of the most visually rewarding walks we have done

At 10km but predominantly flat walking, this was not a challenging hike, but it was definitely picturesque, and the wet weather only added to the atmospheric ambience. Highly recommended if you’re in this area.

Saturday: Three days before Christmas, we were determined to not head out in the car today, assuming the roads would be even busier than usual. Instead we took off on the short 5km circuit walk from the bottom of dad and Sue’s garden.

Mr A strolling around the headland…can you spot the photobombing Tui?

It’s just ridiculously pretty, this friendly local community all pooling together to take care of the pathways, raising money for new steps down to the water after storms destroyed old ones, and one lady telling us we were sat on a bench her husband had constructed ‘just to hide an eyesore there’! No eyesores on our walk…just gorgeous views.

Views upon views…
Parkland or walk?
How many blues can we see?.
And hardly a soul on the whole walk…just serenity…

We had lunch at a waterside cafe mid way around, before returning to dad’s for a relaxing afternoon. What a little slice of paradise this is!